May 23, 2024 – 

Thank you to Midtown Veterinary Medical Center for guest writing this blog, as part of our monthly Business Partner Program. Learn more about Midtown Veterinary Medical Center at

“My pet scratches all the time, please help!” This is one of the most common concerns veterinarians hear from clients about their pets. Scratching or licking incessantly is a sign of itchy skin or pruritis. This is a very common problem for our small animal pets, and a frustrating one for their owners. This condition can be caused by a variety of factors, but the most common culprits include parasites, food allergies, and atopy (inhalant seasonal allergies). Occasionally, topical irritants like certain carpet shampoos or household cleaners may also be to blame.

In regions like Colorado, skin parasites such as fleas, ticks, and mites are prevalent, all of which can lead to dry, itchy skin. While some parasites are visible upon inspection, others might require microscopic examination. Veterinarians can effectively treat these conditions, and ongoing parasite prevention is crucial to avoid recurrence.

Food and inhalant allergies are also frequent issues. Pets with food allergies often exhibit itching around the ears and feet, whereas inhalant allergies typically affect other body parts. These are general patterns, but they are not definitive. We have effective  medications to ease symptoms during peak allergy seasons. Common treatments include antihistamines and, for more severe cases, immunotherapy medications like CytoPoint injections or Apoquel. In extreme scenarios, anti-inflammatory steroids might be necessary, though they come with potential side effects.

There are also allergy blood tests to check for inhalant allergy triggers. Tested pets can then be treated with specially formulated serums made from the allergens to which they test positive, which can help to manage allergy symptoms, and in many cases, will eliminate symptoms completely.

Addressing food allergies involves trial and error with diet changes. Food allergies in pets are typically caused by long-term feeding of the same predominant protein in the diet, causing the pet to eventually become sensitized to that protein. Identifying and eliminating those particular protein ingredients is the key to success. Transitioning the pet to a different protein source or a hydrolyzed diet, which splits the protein molecules into smaller, more easily digestible parts, often brings relief. A new diet must be fed exclusively for 10-12 weeks to assess its effectiveness. Some years ago, grain-free diets were touted as appropriate for food-allergic dogs. However, this theory has been disproved, and grain-free diets should be avoided because they have been found to cause heart failure in some dogs.

Whether food or inhalant-based allergies are involved, increasing the level of Omega Fatty Acids (OFAs) in the diet can be helpful for pets with dry, itchy skin. This can be done with an added supplement or by feeding a diet with added Omega Fatty Acids.

While shampoos and topical treatments rarely cure allergic itchy skin, they can provide temporary relief by enhancing the skin’s natural barrier. Many brands are available; your veterinarian can guide you.

Managing allergic skin disease in pets requires a lifelong commitment to some combination of dietary restrictions, medication, immunotherapy, and possibly topical treatments. Every pet is different and what works for one, may or may not work for another. By working closely with a veterinarian and with proper management, most pets can experience significant improvement and can lead a more normal life.